During this fourth and final Sunday of Advent, our scripture reminds us of how it is that our Savior, Emmanuel, Jesus (Yehoshua, which means “God saves”) will come into the world… born by virgin.
The Word for the 4th Sunday of Advent
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
Our first reading, from early Isaiah, give us the prophecy of how this “Emmanuel”, this “messiah”, will come into the world… “the virgin will conceive and bear a son.” While our Christian ears recognize this as the prophecy of Mary, this was not the case for those who first heard and read these words. At the time, King Ahaz was under threat from the Assyrians, and fearing the fall of Jerusalem, actually aided in the fall of the Northern Kingdom. In this excerpt of the story, the Lord is upset with Ahaz, and is trying to give him one last chance to repent… to “ask for a sign from the Lord your God.” While God sees this as an opportunity for reconciliation, Ahaz doesn’t take the bait, which causes God to get angry (…is it not enough for you to weary people…”), and in a show of power, tells Ahaz that “as a sign” a virgin will give birth. This is a power play between Ahaz and God… Ahaz thinks he doesn’t need God, but God, of course, knows differently. Some 730 years later, God makes good on this “sign”.
Our second reading comes from the opening greeting in Paul’s letter to the Romans. From the opening lines of this letter Paul not only establishes himself as “a slave of Jesus Christ”, but establishes Jesus as the one, the Messiah, as foretold by the Scriptures… like the scripture we just read from Isaiah. It is through Jesus we receive grace, and by our obedience that we (Jews and Gentiles) belong to Jesus.
This takes us to our Gospel from Matthew. Matthew’s gospel opens with a genealogy of Jesus, that starts with King David, and works its way to Joseph. Then the story continues with our gospel passage today that explains the birth of Jesus, using those very same words prophesied by Isaiah in our first reading. It’s no coincidence that Matthew made this connection to the original prophecy. We need to remember that Matthew’s original audience was Jewish. As such, a Jewish audience would know and remember these words from Isaiah, and Matthew is quick to make the connection from that older prophecy to that of Jesus. This is typical of Matthew, drawing on the words of the prophets to reinforce is evangelization, to show his Jewish followers that Jesus is indeed the one who was foretold would come. For us Christians, it is a reminder for us both of Jesus’ immaculate conception, and Joseph’s willingness to accept this calling. It needs to be noted that Joseph, by Mosaic Law, did not have to accept Mary after learning of her pregnancy, and was will within his rights to have her stoned to death. Not only was he willing to spare her shame, he willingly accepted God’s messenger and took her into his care. This act of compassion is a sign of the Kingdom of God that is to come, and reminds us that our duty is to serve one another.